Category Archives: Film Reviews

Transcendence

Transcendence

Directed by Wally Pfister

Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman

 

transcendence-johnny-depp-posterIn case you missed the news or the trailers were so generic that you just don’t care, there is a new Johnny Depp movie currently in theatres. What is it? You may be asking. Well think of a generic 90s techno-thriller-horror minus the thrills and the horror. The film is called Transcendence. What is it about? It’s apparently about The Singularity as predicted by Ray Kurzwell and discussed in the brilliant 2009 documentary Transcendental Man. If you are unfamiliar with Ray Kurzwell his theory in the simplest context is that in the near future technology will be advancing so quickly that the only way we will be able to keep up will be to adapt to machines with nanoprobe technology implanted in us.

In the film version however, Johnny Depp plays a scientist who creates an AI machine, not unlike what Kurzwell is currently working on with Google to develop a computer that can mimic the human brain. It is a fascinating concept and there is a lot that can be done within a science fiction film. Unfortunately, they do nothing more than update those generic thrillers from the 90s when people were afraid of the Internet stealing their information. The new techno-fear is that we will become machines. So, in many ways Transcendence is exploiting a common societal fear. If it were less obvious and even remotely suspenseful, this might be something that could be looked over.

bored-deppOne thing that cannot be looked over is the boredom seeping through Johnny Depp’s performance. While, I think Johnny Depp is generally limited as an actor who can only play two characters, that are either manic or melancholic, at least he is entertaining when he is manic or good when being melancholic in the right film such as Dead Man, Donnie Brasco or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Transcendence on the other is Johnny Depp playing melancholic in a generic thriller, as he has done many times, from The Astronauts Wife, Nick of Time or Secret Window. While these are not necessarily bad films they are middle of the road thrillers and best suited to home video.

Paul Bettany is perhaps the only reason to see Transcendence

Paul Bettany is the only reason to see Transcendence

The only worthwhile part of the film was time dedicated to Paul Bettany, who is always worth paying attention to, even though casual movie goers don’t know his name Bettany brings some life to every film he is in, whether it be A Knight’s Tale, Master and Commander or The DaVinci Code. Paul Bettany works well with whatever he has to work with. Unfortunately, Bettany is not on screen enough to save Transcendence from mediocrity and Johnny Depp is just famous enough to save the Transcendence from obscurity and to keep the film going direct to DVD or VOD.

This is not a film that I want to tell people to avoid, as its one of the few Hollywood films out this year that is not a franchise property or a brand name, unfortunately the film is so generic, that you will most likely forget it within days of seeing it. Therefore, Transcendence is a rental at best.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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1.37:1 Aspect Ratio

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1.37:1 Aspect Ratio

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1.37:1 Aspect Ratio

Directed by Wes Anderson

Written by Wes Anderson

Inspired by Stefan Zweig

Starring every major actor who has ever appeared in a Wes Anderson film

 

I just got home from watching The Grand Budapest Hotel and I will admit without hesitation, I enjoyed this film more than any other film I have seen in a very long time. This is one of the few films in recent memory where I actually wanted more time with the characters. I was not wondering what the time was, or fidgeting in my seat. I was absorbed by what was happening in this film.

The film looks beautiful and Wes Anderson seamlessly blends models and miniatures with stop motion and digital effects. The aspect ratio was unusual in that within each story, the aspect ratio changes. For the most part the film is set in in 1932 and screened in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, as this was the Academy Standard in 1932 while the scenes with the narrator set in the 1970s are in 2.35:1, which was the standard aspect ratio of that time and the girl in a more contemporary setting, reading the book about the narrator telling the story is in 1.78:1 which is the standard aspect ratio today. This may sound strange, and it is, oddly enough it works brilliantly as we are drawn into the world of Gustav H. through a story within a story, within a story. What this brings is an incredible sense of depth through a wide-angle lens while omitting widescreen.

This appears as a fantastical world of Wes Anderson, yet there is perhaps more pathos than audiences are accustomed to in these films. The emotional core of this film was both funny and tragic while also functioning as an allegory of pre WW2 Europe through the gradual loss of pride and violence seeping through the aesthetics.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) had on-screen violence, in stabbing a boy and Snoopy (the dog) being impaled. The Grand Budapest Hotel takes the violence to a new level. Yes, there is blood in this film and despite some of the criticisms of Wes Anderson films being too cute, his films are more adult than they have ever been. Where Moonrise Kingdom dealt with the pain of growing up, the onscreen violence felt unnecessary but may be clearer on a second viewing. The Grand Budapest Hotel appears more interested in the pain of isolation, disconnection, totalitarian occupations and love lost. While the violence mentioned may sound out-of-place in these films, one of the running themes of the film was the need to maintain one’s humanity in a savage world. So when the film aesthetically looks like a fairy tale, the content is deceptively dark and in many ways brilliant. So there is a lot to take in, which is why I recommend this film very highly. as an intelligent film that is engaging on multiple levels.

2.35:1 Aspect Ratio

2.35:1 Aspect Ratio

1.78:1 Aspect Ratio

1.78:1 Aspect Ratio

 

 

 

 

 

The Raid 2

The Raid 2 2014, 150 Minutes Directed by Gareth Evans   431800_477321242348239_303792333_n If you saw The Raid then you will most likely expect The Raid 2 to be a retread of the first film in a new location. In the opening act it appears that they are setting the film up this way, yet the film shifts gears after the first act and morphs from an action film to a brilliant crime thriller with amazing fight sequences that is perhaps closer to film noir than a traditional fight film. Where the first film was an assault on the senses and kept you on the edge of your seat The Raid 2, is a more complex character film that is unlike any sequel in recent memory where the film series requires more intelligence to follow the plot threads. The plotting is so intense that the film will require a second viewing. A less patient viewer may see the narrative structure of the film to be problematic as there are characters who enter the film and a fight scene ensues whilst the audience may be feeling bewildered by these scenes they pay off in other ways. This film feels like it is attempting to redefine a genre and is perhaps closer to OldBoy in that film is about the morality of its characters and it does push the audience to keep up while never distancing itself from its target audience.

I would recommend seeing this in the cinema as it does feel like there is something new and that we are in the middle of a new film genre that is emerging in which The Raid 2 could very well become a classic film in the martial arts/film noir genre.

Theatrical Trailer

Other films of the martial arts-noir genre also include

SPL with Donnie Yen

and Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy.

Episode 2: Coming Soon

In our next episode we will be looking at Mike Judge movies with a focus on “Idiocracy” and “Extract”.  We will also look at some of the films we’ve watched over the last two weeks.  Feedback as always is welcome at the soylentgreenscreenpodcast@gmail.com

Idiocracy Movie Trailer

Extract Movie Trailer

Check out this episode!

The Lone Ranger

 

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150 minutes, 2013

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper

Despite the negative reviews, The Lone Ranger is a lot of fun. It looks beautiful, it was shot on film to emanate the look of a classic western, and the homages to Buster Keaton’s The General (1927) and classic westerns demonstrate the filmmakers love for the content they were working with. Like most, I was reluctant to see this based on negative reviews. I don’t care for the work of Johnny Depp. I think he’s been mining the same characters for 20 years. I was expecting more of the same old Johnny Depp shtick, especially after the last couple of Pirates films and a few too many trips to Tim Burtonville. In all honesty, Johnny Depp does pull off the same character that he made his career out of. However, there are more interesting things in the film than Johnny Depp.

So what did I think of The Lone Ranger.. Well, I actually loved it. To me this film encapsulated everything great about classic westerns and adventure films from a time before Batman. This was back when a hero was allowed to have fun and didn’t have to be brooding and dark to distract audiences from how silly it all is. Unfortunately, modern audiences don’t take to heroes without some kind of parental tragedy. This is perhaps why they killed Kirk’s dad in the new Star Trek series and turned James Bond into an orphan in Skyfall. They do throw in a tragic back story for Tonto, this serves the film quite well and pushes the character beyond a one-dimensional sidekick. There is also a tragic element to The Lone Ranger, but never dwell on this. There were no grand standing speeches and no emotional breakdowns. This was simply a plot device to cue the spectacular and over the top adventure that worked quite well and never felt excessive. Some have complained about the run time. I barely noticed.

This was a throwback to 1930s serial adventure films with a splash of John Ford thrown in for stylistic purposes. The John Ford influences were especially present in the desert scenes filmed in Monument Valley or, what is now known as John Ford country. There was also a heavy dose of Buster Keaton in the final act. To me, this was one of the most loving homages to the era of silent film comedies and afternoon serials since Indiana Jones.

Depp has greater chemistry with Hammer than with Orlando Bloom in the Pirates films. Also the support cast of Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson and especially William Fichtner as the villains were fantastic. Comparatively, I think I enjoyed this more on a first viewing than I did the first Pirates film or pretty much anything Depp has done this century. The real standout of the film is Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger. To begin with, I thought he was going to give us a Brendan Fraser style goofball hero. For a large portion of the film he does, but when he steps up in the second half, he knocks it out of the park.

What set this film apart from other summer films of the last few years, is that it was actually fun to watch. For example, the final act was so ludicrously brilliant, that when the classic Lone Ranger theme music kicks in, the film flows like an old silent film and becomes one of the greatest action set-pieces since the rollicking adventures of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Despite my love for what they did with this film, I will admit there was a lack of emotional depth, also, thematically it is pretty shallow. However, they were not trying to be deep and meaningful, nor was it posing as a dark and gritty take on a classic like most modern films do. Gritty and dark does not necessarily equate to a better film. If anything, the dark and gritty hero is becoming a cliché.

This film was all about the fun of playing cowboys and Indians. If this was all they gave us I’d be disappointed. This is a studio film, make no mistake about that. It is Disney after all. However, the scope of this film, the scenery, the set pieces and the simple fact that they went to the extra effort to shoot on film suggests that despite the criticisms that this film has received Verbinski, Depp and co really do love the western genre. There were no pretensions about this film. Watch it for the honest and fun ride that it is. Is it perfect? No it’s not but not every film needs to be a classic. It’s fun and its kind of goofy, I don’t think I would want a Lone Ranger film any other way.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Starring Bruce Willis & Jai Courtney

Directed by either a real guy named John Moore or more likely, a committee of advertising and tourism executives.

a-good-day-to-die-hard (1)This is the fifth film in the progressively worsening Die Hard franchise. I try to find positive aspects in most films. This film was difficult. Jai Courtney has a fine screen presence and is likable as an actor. However, his character, Jack McClaine made no sense.

The film opens in Moscow. Jack assassinates some guy in a nightclub. The film jumps to NY where John McClaine receives some hand written notes from an expository character about his son, Jack. Bruce Willis mumbles something about them not talking. This may have been an attempt at character development but for all i know Willis may have been trying to bust out some Seth Rogen style improv. Whatever he said was most likely so incomprehensible that the sound editors covered it up by digitally manipulating the film to sound like Willis was mumbling. I’m probably giving them too much credit.

images (1)Where was I? That’s right, John McClaine goes to Moscow  to get his son Jack back. What else happens? John McClaine rides around in a taxi. John McClaine gets into a gunfight and bumps into his son. Car chase ensues. John and Jack catch up. There is some contrived father son bonding. Jack and John kill the Moscow Mafia. Jack and John blow up half of Moscow. Escape in a CIA helicopter by dangling from the rail. John and Jack go back to NY. John and Jack meet Lucy McClaine. Cue credits. This film could have been plotted out on a napkin.

Sounds simple right? So ‘what could possibly be confusing about that?’ you may wonder. First of all, Willis keeps spouting bizarre one liners that make no sense within the context of the film such as “I’m on vacation”. Also, it clearly stated that Jack was in the CIA on the hand written notes Willis received, but then the CIA connection is treated like some kind of twist. Finally, I had no idea who the bad guys were or why Jack assassinated the guy in the beginning. Also, there was some Russian woman who was wearing nothing but a bra under a motorcycle jacket. In Moscow of all places.A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard-Yuliya-Snigir

I was not expecting a perfect film but I was expecting it to be fun. Bruce Willis has made some crap but he always had enough on-screen charisma to carry the film. He could smirk his way through any script. Now he mumbles his way through horrendous one liners that make no sense in slapped together scripts that are more contrived than your typical JJ Abrams blockbuster.

The Fall

This will be returning to The Astor on Jy 14 at 4:30 pm. I highly recommend seeing this on the big screen. It is truly astounding on The Astor super screen and cannot be matched by home theatre or downloaded content.

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The Fall

Directed by Tarsem

Starring Lee Pace & Catinca Untaru

2006, 115 Minutes

Reviewed by Wayne Pollock on 17/02/2012

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To put it mildly The Fall is a visual treat filmed on location across 20 countries that was especially jaw dropping on The Astor’s Superscreen. Most of these locations had never been used in a fictional film before. To get a rough idea of what to expect, I would say to think of a melding between the cinematography of Baraka with a story reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth.

To discuss only the locations and the aesthetic beauty of The Fall would be, in my opinion, a disservice to the film as a whole. For the aesthetics are the ingredients and not quite enough to get a Tarsem Singh film to the finish line. This was evident in his latest film ‘Immortals’ (2011). A film generally considered ‘nice to look…

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The Man of Steel

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I’ve been on holidays, therefore I’ve been watching holiday films. Some have been bad and some have been laughably bad. One film that I expected to be good was Man of Steel. I am a fan of the Christopher Reeve films, the first two anyway. Superman 3 & 4 are hysterically funny in an Ed Wood so bad they’re good kind of way. Despite their problems they’re still fun. My personal favourite has been Superman Returns. The character moments in that film were beautiful. I also loved that there was a timelessness to Superman Returns. Some have accused Singer of being too close to Richard Donner’s film but it also paid homage to the old Fleischer cartoons. The film had its problems but for a comic book film it delivered solid characters and adult themes about unrequited love and Supermans very human need to form a connection to the world. Now we have Man of Steel.

When I heard this was from the guy who made Watchmen, another solid character driven comic book movie, I was excited. Unfortunately, Man of Steel was a largely empty filmic experience. The first half is quite good. Russell Crowe as Jor-el in the prologue was excellent. This was perhaps my favourite part of the film. The second act reveals Clark’s personal history via flashback. This was kind of like the character back stories in Lost. As far as I’m concerned, this was a good move as they told the story in a different way to how it had been told before. I found this to be refreshing.

So where was the problem?

There were several problems which got progressively worse as the film went on. For the purposes of this review I will focus on the key areas that I thought held this film back.

Surprisingly, the problem is in the relationship dynamics of Lois and Clark. They keep throwing them together but the writers did not spend any time building the relationship between these characters. This appeared to be deliberate on the writers part to make Superman more of a loner like Batman or Iron Man but this relationship is at the very core of Superman and it’s when you remove Lois Lane from the equation as they did in Superman 3 & 4, and again here, the character of Superman suffers. They may be planning to flesh this out in future movies, but I don’t care for franchises. I still think its important that a film stands on its own. This is a movie not a tv pilot. Therefore, it should not be structured like a tv pilot.

The other major issue was that they took an amazing actor in Michael Shannon and they did create a formidable enemy in Zod who played this version as more of a Brutus type character whose only intention was the saviour of Krypton at any cost. This was fascinating. However, they did not develop this character beyond this point. In fact, most of the characters got pushed aside for the destruction of Metropolis. This must have taken up close to thirty minutes of the film, at least it felt that way. These are the kinds of events I’d expect to see in a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film. Because the relationships built had not been substantially enough, I was quite nonchalant to the events and destruction. I even found myself yawning and considered ducking out for a toilet break. Whereas on a recent re watch of the 1978 film during the earth quake sequence where Lois is trapped in the car, I could feel the jeopardy and understood the choice Superman had to make. In Man of Steel there was no such character investment. I may have looked better with modern effects but it had no impact on my involvement with the film.

It also seemed apparent that they wanted to take this film in the complete opposite direction of Superman Returns. The major complaints of that film were that Superman lifts too much stuff, Superman doesn’t punch anyone, Lex Luthor has been used too many times, the kid, too much focus on relationships. Those who hated Superman Returns got their wish. Superman doesn’t lift anything except a couple of cars. He punches a lot. There is no Lex Luthor and Lois Lane was basically just there to feed expository dialogue.

The problem with Man of Steel as I see it is this: They tried to make a film that counters Superman Returns because they thought this is what fans wanted. What they should have done was find the balance between the classic battle of the sexes scenario and over the top action. Unfortunately they pushed heavily on he action and jettisoned what made these films truly memorable in the past.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Director: Mira Nair
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schrieber, Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland
130 Minutes, 2012

Earlier this week I scored some tickets to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a new film doing the rounds in Melbournes art house cinemas. This is the story of a Pakistani named Changez (riz Ahmed) who lives in the pursuit of the American dream as a corporate head cutter until the fallout of 9/11 and the response ordinary American citizens had to anyone resembling a Muslim. The film is told in flashbacks as Changez is being interviewed in regards to the whereabouts of a kidnapped American citizen. There are a lot of twists and turns in this film as you never quite know how far one side will push the other. There was no way of knowing where this film was going. While the description makes this sound like a thriller, it is not exactly that. There is so much more going in this film.

What kept my interest in the film was the degree of empathy that they built around these characters. It could have been easy in the hands of a lesser film maker to turn this into a sympathising propaganda film. However, they remain objective on the subject of racism and bigotry. What comes out in this film is the need for cultural security. This is present not just in Changez but also in Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jim Cross, the corporate mentor of Changez. this character could have easily become a one dimensional plot device. What Sutherland gives is a deeply flawed character who is trying to cling to what he identifies with. Kate Hudson’s character as Changez photographer girlfriend behaves similarly. She relates to the world and to Changez through photographs. She is hiding behind her camera just like Changez hides behind his faux accent and expensive suits but then later hides behind his beard once he becomes objectified. There is no evil present in this film, there is only the fear of being seen. This also applies to Liev Schriebers character conducting the interview. Schrieber is one of those actors that always delivers solid supporting roles but in this film he demonstrates a complexity in his character motivations that he generally does not have the opportunity to explore.

This is a film about hiding and whether we hide because we are guilty or scared. The film touches upon this theme in various ways. The most obvious is Changez in the first half of the film in the flashbacks tries to hide his heritage by speaking with a faux English accent and being clean shaven. He tries to deny his cultural connections in exchange for the American dream. This is a dream that is shattered in one moment where history stood still and the people of the western world realised how fragile their protective bubble was. It was after this point where he encounters a series of police and security interventions where Changez let’s go of the delusion of security in America.

In summary, this is a powerful film. It is far from generalised mainstream entertainment where you forget half the film as soon as you exit the theatre. The content of this film is so strong that I cannot imagine anyone watching this and not being affected by this story or at least reevaluating their own treatment of minority cultures.

This is currently screening in Melbourne at the cinema nova in Carlton. The reviews of this film have been mixed. Imdb rated it 6.4 and Rotten Tomatoes at 56%. Do not let this dissuade you. This is a film that challenges perceptions of the past without forcing us to take sides. In doing so, the film becomes provocative and will obviously not be to everyone’s tastes.

http://youtu.be/mwQA7b4sPWM

OBLIVION

OBLIVION

Written & Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman

125 Minutes, 2013

oblivion_aOblivion is part of what appears to be a new wave of original science fiction. Over the last few years we have seen some great science fiction but up until this year, good science fiction has been sparing. Examples from the last few years include Children of Men, Sunshine, District 9, Inception and Could Atlas. With Oblivion it finally feels like studios are losing the fear of original films. You could argue that Tom Cruise is a studio insurance measure. However, it is Tom Cruise that is taking the risk. He could easily ride the coattails of such cash cows as Mission Impossible, but with Oblivion like Minority Report (2002) he chooses to focus his attention on a heady science fiction that is above and beyond the generalised science fiction that Hollywood usually delivers in such classics as Transformers 1 – 3 and John Carter. For this alone Oblivion gets my recommendation.

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Is Oblivion perfect? Not quite. It is very, very good but just misses the mark of being great. The ideas are fantastic, the music is phenomenal and overall the film looks beautiful, plus Olga Kurylenko has a beauty and a sensuality that is so captivating she could make Battle: Los Angeles watchable. So what keeps the film from greatness?

118642Surprisingly, Morgan Freeman is the weak link in a potentially great work of science fiction. Freeman is a great actor, this cannot be denied. He is a better actor than Tom Cruise. This is also above contention. When Morgan Freeman is interested in the material he is electrifying. This man has the power to break your heart just by lowering his voice. In this film Freeman phoned in his role. It was almost as if he was reading from cue cards. This was a very important character to the film and seeing Tom Cruise bringing his A-Game and Freeman just showing up for work was distracting to the point where I lost interest in the film during Morgan Freeman’s scenes. Forest Whitaker would have taken this role to a whole other level. People can criticize Tom Cruise for his personal life and religious choices til they are blue in the face, one thing that Tom Cruise should never be criticized for are his movie and career choices. Tom Cruise may not be the greatest actor in history but he never fails to give 100% to whatever film he is in. Bruce Willis on the other hand could make any film he wants, yet over the last few years appears mostly uninspired and rarely brings his A-Game. Tom Cruise rarely falters in this department. Therefore, in the end we have a solid science fiction that is close to great but the aim is slightly off. I would recommend seeing this if you love challenging and original science fiction.

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